“Dance like a butterfly. Sting like a bee!”
Remembering Ali as “The Greatest,” taunting his opponents at match weigh-ins throwing punchy rhymes to the eager media, foretelling in which round his rival will go down, puts a smile on our faces.
Its an easy way to remember the champ. It is how my Louisville students idolized him, dreamed of being him.
So, I wonder now how my former students, third and fourth graders at the time, are remembering him this week of ceremonial honor for Mohammed Ali with all the pomp Louisville can muster, and it is world-class.
Do my students know what Ali saw in this younger generation, what he wanted for them far beyond his giving them a boxing hero?
Was I, as a teacher, remiss, at the time, in helping my students read past the condemnations, negative press, and humiliations he endured becoming Ali, rejecting his “slave name” Cassius Clay? Did we speak openly about the anti-war stance he took as solidly as if he were squaring off against Sonny Liston in the ring?
Were his civil rights, Black pride, anti-war, objector pronouncements all too political for me to discuss with my classes, as public school teacher, especially because I was representing the federal Teacher Corps program in Louisville?
No Louisville memory for me is without finding myself sitting on the Churchill Downs infield grass, with about 30,000 other half-crazy revelers, sipping Mint Julips, on Derby Day, looking across the dirt track, into the reserved seating, where the fancy hats fluttered in the breeze, while their owners attempted the words of “My Old Kentucky Home” as it played out across the Downs.
“Sting like a bee?” It did, this memory. This scene could have been Ali’s. Most likely, he could have had a special box seat in the stands with his name on it, had he chosen fame and glory as Louisville’s “favorite son.”
But, he chose another way, the path that leads just beyond the Goodyear Blimp panning shots of Churchill Downs each first Saturday in May.
What the blimp and the media do not show are the homes and streets in the shadows of those historic steeples at the Downs.
The streets where another Louisville lives and breathes and where tenants move in and out at the whim of landlords, causing their kids to shift neighborhood schools as many as four or five times in a school year.
Neighborhood schools that see students leave elementary grades and never report to middle or high school – gone – leaving behind nothing more than a folder in the last school’s office.
As I remember Ali, I now see these students, these families, were whom he fought to champion with more passion than he ever did in any ring.
So, again, as I closed Part One of this blog series, all I can say is…
“Sting on. Mr. Ali. Sting on!”